The Last Word: Feeder clubs can enhance education of young over-protected Premier League players
Pampered academy hopefuls and struggling lower-League clubs may be of help to each other
Sunday 15 September 2013
A pampered academy product, sent on loan to League One by a prominent club, complained about everything from the hotel in which he had been billeted to the rule which forbade the wearing of baseball caps at work.
His car was ostentatious, but excused, because professional footballers at any level are conditioned to accepting that a little bling is not a bad thing. His mistake was a throwaway line – “I’m not going to be here long” – delivered during a training session.
It proved to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. His new team’s alpha male, a veteran striker, grabbed him by the throat. Before he was dragged away he left the teenager in no doubt about the consequences if his performances threatened the squad’s win bonus.
Within a fortnight, the loanee had returned to his parent club with a fictitious, face-saving “injury”. It proved to be a salutary life lesson. In the year or so since, he has developed an impressive work ethic. He has excelled for England in age-group internationals and is coveted by a host of clubs.
His introduction to the real world is likely to be a pivotal moment in his career, and highlights the value of the best young players being pushed out of the bubble of development football into the nitty-gritty of the lower Leagues.
A small and unscientific survey of managers across the divisions revealed widespread support for Roberto Martinez’s call for the introduction of feeder clubs to enhance the education of talented, but over-protected, players aged between 19 and 23.
The notion of up to 10 emerging stars being lent as job lots challenges the conventions of the English game, but makes sense on a number of levels. It would enable Premier League clubs to work strategically by monitoring their best prospects collectively, instead of on a piecemeal, individual basis. The nursery club would have an injection of quality and the promise of attracting followers of the parent club.
In the words of one lower-League manager, who has a development background: “Its win-win. People don’t realise the amount of things we have to deal with at our level.”
To illustrate the point, his recent duties have ranged from helping to fix a leak in the main stand to investigating European employment legislation so he can sign someone on a short-term, non-contract deal.
A new model is starting to emerge from the links between Tim Sherwood, Tottenham’s technical co-ordinator, and Lee Power, the former Norwich striker and agent who became part-owner of Swindon in April.
Spurs have three prospects, Grant Hall, Ryan Mason and Alex Pritchard, on loan at the County Ground. All have quickly become key figures in a side with promotion potential. Three other Spurs players, including £400,000 signing Massimo Luongo, have moved permanently to Swindon. The main argument, that feeder clubs sacrifice their soul, is losing its weight. Just as Swindon’s supporters relish the impact made by players schooled in the Tottenham traditions, so do Watford fans celebrate the consequences of the club’s absorption into the Pozzo football empire.
The synergies between Watford and other clubs owned by the Italian family are being utilised with the cynical precision which marked their exploitation of loan loopholes last season. Twelve players have been signed, either permanently or on loan, from Udinese and Granada this season.
My opposition, based on the dilution of the identity of Watford as a closely knit community-focused club, has been answered to a degree by the manner in which the imported players have been accepted as a source of collective pride. It remains a bloodless business model, but it works. We may all have to re-evaluate our romanticism.
Fraser is the man to lead cricket
Andrew Strauss has given himself a fortnight to consider whether he should seek strategic control of English cricket, as managing director of the ECB. He should use the time wisely, think deeply, and reject the opportunity out of hand. It is an accident waiting to happen.
Strauss would be vulnerable to the accusation he is a beneficiary of a jobs-for-the-boys culture, a symbol of the damaging introspection of the current regime.
He would effectively be the boss of his former coach Andy Flower, whose wisdom and experience makes him far better suited to the role, as successor to Hugh Morris.
Strauss was a successful England captain without confirming whether he has the necessary breadth of knowledge in such areas as commerce, sport science and organisational-development duties. He is understood to deal with the difficulties of his relationship with Kevin Pietersen in his forthcoming autobiography. Every slight, real or imagined, will doubtlessly be magnified.
A personal preference would be Angus Fraser. Once of this parish, he has transformed Middlesex as managing director of cricket. He also doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, which helps.
Jack it in now
According to Arsène Wenger, Jack Wilshere has the potential to emulate Bobby Moore, Zinedine Zidane or Michel Platini. One does not need a Pro Licence or a degree in psychoanalysis to appreciate that hyperbolic excess is the last thing Wilshere needs. We await Wenger’s inevitable observation that his player is being subjected to excessive pressure.
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